Jason Plato mastered tricky conditions to claim victory in the opening race for the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Snetterton as SEAT repeated its qualifying performance with a one-two finish.
With rain having fallen for most of the night, and a further heavy shower having led to carnage in the opening T Car race of the morning, the teams were faced with a difficult decision over which tyres to choose for the race – with the majority of the field electing to go for dry tyres on the front and wet tyres on the rear.
At the start, Plato made the best get-away from the line to lead the field into Riches for the first time, with Fabrizio Giovanardi
making a fine start from the second row of the grid to go inside James Thompson – the two running alongside each other before the Italian made the move stick into Sear Corner.
The opening laps would pass without major incident, with Plato leading Giovanardi and Thompson, with Gordon Shedden
holding fourth from Gavin Smith and Matt Neal
– who was managing to keep himself ahead of title rival Colin Turkington.
The Team RAC man was under pressure from behind however, and dropped behind Mike Jordan
in the Eurotech Honda on lap two. Jordan would then make a move on Neal into Russell Bend on lap four, the two running across the grass and Neal sustaining damage to the front of the Team Halfords Integra in the process. Jordan would eventually find a way past the champion, as would Tom Chilton
on lap six, dropping Neal to eighth and back into the clutches of Turkington.
On lap seven, with the top three breaking away, Shedden ran wide out of Sear Corner to drop behind Smith while two laps later there would be drama involving the two stars fighting for the title. Turkington got a run on Neal on the run along the high-speed Revett Straight but as the two headed into the Esses, contact saw Neal go sideways into the tyres on the inside of the corner – leading to further damage to the already battle-scarred Honda. However, worse was to come for Neal when he was hit from the rear and tipped into a spin by the Alfa Romeo of Eoin Murray – contact that would lead to Murray retiring a lap later.
That lap, the tenth of the race, would also account for three drivers at the opening turn – who would not doubt endear themselves to the local farmer by ploughing into the crops on the outside of Riches Corner. First up were Chilton and Shedden, with the Vauxhall man appearing to have nowhere to go when Shedden drifted wide – both cars disappearing from view into the corn – shortly followed by Mark Smith in the In-Front Alfa Romeo who seemed to go off all by himself and also vanished into the field.
Out front, Giovanardi was fighting to keep Thompson behind, the Astra sideways through the Bombhole and Coram on almost every lap before Thompson saw a chance to dive down the inside on lap twelve. Giovanardi defended the place, with the two touching and Giovanardi going sideways – slowing Thompson in the process to let Gavin Smith through into second. Once into the position, Smith set about closing the gap to Plato and was drawing in on the leader when the first three came up behind Martyn Bell
and Fiona Leggate to put a lap on the backmarkers. Bell was cleared with ease on the run into the Esses, with the trio coming up behind Leggate into Russell Bend. Plato slid through past the Astra Coupe on the turn in and as the cars came out of the bend, Smith tried to follow, but ran wide and made contact with the Thurlby Motors car – damaging his rear suspension in the process.
However the Irishman continued undeterred, with only a matter of laps to the finish, and despite his car crabbing wildly with a loose rear wheel – which led to a spin at the Esses – he nursed the car home to a fine fourth place, Giovanardi having passed him for third despite an off of his own at Coram. However out front it was a SEAT one-two, with Thompson closing onto the rear of Plato for a formation finish that went some way to banishing the memory of Donington Park two weeks ago.
Mike Jordan claimed fifth at the line – just behind Smith – while Matt Neal
recovered to take sixth and extend his lead in the standings following a retirement for Turkington who was forced to pit when the MG developed an engine problem. Gareth Howell
took seventh in his comeback race having started from the pitlane, while an interesting battle between the two Honda Civic Type-Rs on the grid went the way of Mark Proctor, who beat James Kaye to eighth.
Jason Hughes, who had also started from the pits, took the final point in tenth, with Dave Pinkney, Leggate and Bell completing the finishers.